Next man up: Newcomers in spotlight on Wave defense

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Tupelo's Justin Clifton was a leader of a defense that held opponents to 10 points per game last season.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Tupelo’s Justin Clifton was a leader of a defense that held opponents to 10 points per game last season.

By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

A new-look defense – one featuring eight novice starters – will line up for Tupelo in Friday’s season opener against Lafayette.

Outside linebacker Justin Clifton, end Shaun Kohlhiem and nose guard Jamal Wren are the three holdovers from last season’s standout unit, one that gave up an average of 10 points per game.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Jamel Wren played a role on Tupelo's stifling defense in 2013.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Jamel Wren played a role on Tupelo’s stifling defense in 2013.

“Last year our backups were seniors,” Golden Wave second-year head coach Trent Hammond said. “We played a lot of kids.

“We’ve got young guys this year who are trying to figure out what they’re doing. There will be some times when there is a blown call or two. The key is to limit those.”

Hammond, whose 2013 team finished 13-2 and played for the MHSAA Class 6A state championship, got a peek of what to expect in last week’s two-quarter scrimmage against Itawamba AHS.

Tupelo’s defense gave up 150 yards passing, but allowed negative yardage in rushing. During a goal line drill, the Wave stopped the Indians on seven plays.

“On the goal line our defense bowed its neck and didn’t give up anything,” Hammond said. “(IAHS) had a lot of big passes. Give them their due. We’ve got to learn to stay in on somethings.”

Clifton, one of the team’s top tacklers last year, likes what he’s seen of the unit in the preseason.

“I think we did pretty well (in the scrimmage), but we’ve got a lot of things we can fix,” he said. “You can never be satisfied.”

Some of the newcomers in the team’s 3-4 scheme are middle linebackers Tyler Gilbert and Christian Haire, outside linebacker Quan Osborne, end Devin Hadley, corners Terrick Beene and Jarren McKenzie, and safeties Jarvis Wilson, a wide receiver last year, and Demaris Wise.

Lafayette, which finished 10-6 and reached the 4A title game last season, returns an experienced offense led by quarterback Devon Thomas and a powerful offensive line.

Thomas accounted for 1,600 yards total offense and 18 touchdowns last season.

“They’re big and very physical up front,” Hammond said. “They have the luxury of having run the same offense.”

gene.phelps@journalinc.com